LAKE STATION | The recovery of two little boys from a weekend house fire that killed their mother is nothing short of a miracle, a veteran firefighter said Monday.
Hobart Fire Chief Brian Taylor, who helped rescue one of the boys — 3-year-old — from a Saturday night house fire at 2260 Wayne St., said he learned Monday both boys were in stable condition at a Chicago hospital.
"To have two young children alive after that exposure to intense heat is nothing short of a miracle," Taylor said.
He said when he went inside the smoke-filled house, he found the 3-year-old lying face down and unconscious in his bed.
"I snatched him up right away. He had potentially another minute left," Taylor said.
The other brother, a 2-year-old, was rescued from his crib by Lake Station Fire Department Lt. Robert Saylor, fire officials said.
Firefighters were unable to save the life of the boys' mother, whom neighbors and her boyfriend, John Thiel, have identified as Jennifer Teel, 29.
The victim's body had not been identified by the Lake County coroner's office as of Monday evening.
"She was found at the base of the couch in the living room near where the fire had started," Taylor said. "She was trying to get to her children and was overcome by smoke."
Taylor said the blaze apparently began in the kitchen.
"The actual cause of the fire has not been determined," Taylor said.
Taylor said he was driving to Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital on Monday night to see the two boys and visit with family members.
He said learning both little boys were doing well was a huge relief.
"It's probably the greatest news I could receive," Taylor said.
Thiel described Teel as a single mom who loved her kids.
He said he had been at her house earlier Saturday for a belated birthday party for the 3-year-old.
The two had plans to go out the next day and buy a Christmas tree, Thiel said.
He said he left her house about 8 p.m. Saturday and became worried when he didn't get a call from her as was their routine. He arrived to find the residence ablaze.
Thiel said he threw a concrete block through a back window, but the smoke was so overwhelming he couldn't go inside.
Neighbors, who also tried to help, felt equally frustrated, Lorri Phillippe said.
"I've seen other fires, but I've never seen a house burn that fast. We felt so defeated that we couldn't get her out. I saw grown men crying," Phillippe said.